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Language and Cognition

An Interdisciplinary Journal of Language and Cognitive Science

Ed. by Casasanto, Daniel / Coulson, Seana / Evans, Vyvyan / Hart, Christopher / Kemmerer, David / Michaelis, Laura / Sinha, Chris

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Point of view in British Sign Language and spoken English narrative discourse: the example of “The Tortoise and the Hare”

1 / Kearsy Cormier1

1Deafness, Cognition & Language Research Centre, University College London

Citation Information: Language and Cognition. Volume 5, Issue 4, Pages 313–343, ISSN (Online) 1866-9859, ISSN (Print) 1866-9808, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/langcog-2013-0021, December 2013

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This paper discusses how point of view (POV) is expressed in British Sign Language (BSL) and spoken English narrative discourse. Spoken languages can mark changes in POV using strategies such as direct/indirect discourse, whereas signed languages can mark changes in POV in a unique way using “role shift”. Role shift is where the signer “becomes” a referent by taking on attributes of that referent, e.g. facial expression. In this study, two native BSL users and two native British English speakers were asked to tell the story “The Tortoise and the Hare”. The data were then compared to see how point of view is expressed and maintained in both languages. The results indicated that the spoken English users preferred the narrator's perspective, whereas the BSL users preferred a character's perspective. This suggests that spoken and signed language users may structure stories in different ways. However, some co-speech gestures and facial expressions used in the spoken English stories to denote characters' thoughts and feelings bear resemblance to the hand movements and facial expressions used by the BSL storytellers. This suggests that while approaches to storytelling may differ, both languages share some gestural resources which manifest themselves in different ways across different modalities.

Keywords: point of view; narrative discourse; British Sign Language; English; role shift; gesture

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